Ode to Woolworths

High Street Favourite

Photograph originally taken by C. Ford,  Author: secretlondon -  (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Image%3AWoolworths_shop_frontage.jpg)
Photograph originally taken by C. Ford, Author: secretlondon - (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Image%3AWoolworths_shop_frontage.jpg)

Is this the end of an era?

Woolworths (affectionately known as "Woolies") was first founded in the United States in 1878, and quickly became multi-national.

While the last US Woolworths stores closed in the 1980s, here in the UK, up until now we have been lucky enough to still have many Woolworths outlets. However, with increased competition in many of its markets and the current financial crisis, its future looks very uncertain.

Woolworths has been a favourite shop for me since I was very young. Admittedly, the reason why I liked it there as a child was because they sold really good sweets (candy) and had a "pick and mix" section, which was quite revolutionary in those days!

By the time I was a teenager I was no longer so keen on sweets, but I still loved Woolworths as they had a great music section, which had better deals than any music shop. That's the beauty of Woolworths, they sell so many different types of products that there is something for everyone. It's a shop that you can really grow up with, and use your entire life!

Now that I'm an adult and a mother, I still love the shop and when I go there with my daughter it's a treat for both of us. She loves spending time looking at all the toys, which are sold at competitive prices, and I'm happy to buy toys there because I know from experience that they're going to be of a really good quality.

They are also the best place to go for kids' dressing-up clothes. They stock classic styles, such as princess/fairy tale dresses and cowboy costumes, which are always popular, as well as characters from the most popular current television shows. So if your child has a fancy dress party to go to, or they just fancy being a pirate or donning pink hair and becoming Stephanie from Lazytown - just for the sheer fun of it - this is the place to come!

Woolworths also have a very impressive kids' clothing range called Ladybird, which caters for all children, from newborn to aged 16. The clothes are just lovely; great quality and once again, very competitively priced. There are many other reason to like this shop.

They still have their sweets section (with the legendary pick and mix!); now there is a big range of confectionery, from the cheaper sweets that used to appeal to me as a child to a large choice of quite luxurious chocolates, which are perfect for gifts.

The section that is now most useful to me (as it was to my mother when I was young) is the home-ware section. Woolworths has always been the best place to buy just about anything you need for your home; cleaning items, saucepans, wooden spoons, washing lines, crockery sets. They have it all.

Because they sell practically everything you can think of and they are competitively priced, as you can imagine, Woolworths is very popular at Christmas time. It's perfect for Christmas shopping, and it's always a real joy to visit the shop when it's all decked out with festive colours, and full of familiar seasonal products like Christmas chocolate selection boxes. It's at this time of year that Woolworths really comes alive and reminds me of my childhood. It will be strange and rather sad going there this Christmas, seeing it looking all happy and cheery, yet knowing that this might be its last year.

The Woolworths Group has been struggling for a while now. It's been facing tough competition in many of its markets as supermarkets have diversified to produce many of its key products. It has also been affected by the growth of internet shopping and new technologies such as digital TV and music downloads, which reduce the need for people to buy products such as cds and dvds. And the financial crisis has been the final nail in its coffin.

Unbelievably, Woolworths may be sold for just £1 (although this deal doesn't sound nearly as attractive when you consider that it includes around £300m worth of debts!) This potential deal (with the Hilco Group) has caused several other serious bidders to surface. Depending on who buys it, it's uncertain whether Woolworths will continue in the form that we all know and love (yeah!), or become something completely different (boo!).

Although American in origin, because Woolworths has been a much-loved member of our high streets for such a long time, it is thought of as a national institution, and if it doesn't survive it will be sorely missed. And so, along with much of the UK, I hope and pray for a Christmas miracle for this ailing store.

UPDATE: Sadly, all of the UK Woolworths branches have now closed, and are all boarded up like so many other shops here. However, they will shortly be relaunching online, (which is definitely better than nothing!)

UPDATE 2: Woolworths has now relaunched online! To see the online version of Woolworths and shop to your heart's content see www.woolworths.co.uk.

A lovely song featuring Woolworths. (Thanks to Frieda Babbley!)

Goodbye to Woolworths - by Ayd Instone

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Comments 46 comments

annemaeve profile image

annemaeve 8 years ago from Philly Burbs

Great hub, Moon Daisy!  I miss Woolworths terribly.  As a kid, I loved going and sitting at the counter for a sandwich or a milkshake.  One year, my mom wanted a crystal butter dish for Christmas, and I searched in vain through every fancy department store in town.  Where did I finally find the perfect butter dish?  Woolworths!  I hope the store stays its fabulous self in the UK.

gjcody profile image

gjcody 8 years ago

Moon Daisy ..you bring tears to my eyes.  When I was married ..too many years ago ..we had a Woolworths and we also had a Murphy's 5 and 10 cent store.  But they are gone! Squeezed out by the giants like Wal-Marts!!

Unfortunately in America ..we had the room for the expansion of shopping malls and the likes that eventually squeezed out the small town shopping.

I have a friend that has relatives in England and when they come here they love to shop in places like Wal-Mart and the shopping malls.  What I did not realize is that you still have Woolworths in England ...How wonderful.  If only you could hold on to it ..that is like a childhood dream. If only they knew  that places like Wal-Marts would ruin their towns ..they would not love them so much.

I loved the picture ..it really takes me back.  It looks like the stores from a town that I raised my daughter in and it is gone.

Keep up the good work ...love your hubs ...my best to you and your health!

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

annemaeve, thanks a lot for your comment. It's really interesting to get a glimpse from you of what the original, American Woolworths stores were like. They sound especially fabulous with their milkshake/sandwich counter, and trust Woolworths to have the perfect butter dish! Me too, I hope that they find some way to survive!

jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 8 years ago from Scotland

I heard Woolworths went out of business because of the pick and mix candy they sell apparently they lost Hundreds and Thousands......jimmy

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

gjcody, thanks for your comments.  I'm glad to bring back happy (or wistful) memories relating to Woolworths.  So sad that the giants squeezed them out.  We have some shopping malls here, but probably nowhere near the size of the American ones.  And a lot of our town centres are starting to look like clones of oneanother, as the bigger chains move in and some of the smaller, independent shops have to close.  So it's sadly a similar trend.

When we go to the States, yes, places like Wal-Mart are a novelty, ecause they're so huge and different.  We have ASDA, which is run by Wal-Mart, but so far the competition from our other supermarkets have kept them in check!  It would be very sad to lose the smaller stores and independents, you made me realise that we're lucky to still have them!

Thanks for your kind words.  Your hubs are great too, I'm learning lots!  Take care.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Thanks for that Jimmy!

Actually, you inspired me to make the most of the pick 'n mix while it's still there.  Next time I'm in town I'm going to get me some!

RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

I miss them so much. We used to shop there all the time. Times change and with it so go the memories! Thank you for a trip down memory lane.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

What!? You still have Woolworths in UK? Woolworth came out with a discount store called Woolco that lasted several years and then closed; then the Woolworths went away as well. All our malls had a Woothworths at one end and an S.S. Kresge at the other. I don't remember anything about Woolworths, except I liked going there as a child and liked the smell of the store. As for Woolco's - I bought oil paints and canvases there.

Lucky you. And Thumbs up!

gjcody profile image

gjcody 8 years ago

Moon Daisy ...I fear that what you are saying is that the giants are trying to move in on the UK ...I understand that the reason that they have not done so up to the present is that the space is not there. I guess that is why the USA was a great target for their type of thing. You should see the Wal-Marts now. They are totally discusting. The prices are not low and they are making mockery of the people who flood in there thinking they are getting the greatest bargin.

I do hope your towns hold strong ..what a great thing. I too miss the Woolworth type stores. Keep on enjoying ..my best to your success!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Moon Daisy, it's nice to know that Woolworth's still exists in the UK. Hope things turn out the way you want them to.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

RGraf, thanks for your comment. It's nice to know that it was so popular in the States, I didn't realise that this would be bringing back so many memories! The ideal situation here would be if somebody were to buy the store and somehow regenerate it; so much so that they start opening branches in America once more. (Well, I can dream!)

gwendymom profile image

gwendymom 8 years ago from Oklahoma

I used to love to shop at Woolworths as a kid, I do miss it and hadn't thought about the store in years. I hope they make it over there and you have many more years of Woolsworth memroies.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Yes, we are lucky - hope it lasts though!  I didn't know about Woolco, hadn't heard of that before.  Sounds as if it was a last ditch attempt by Woolworths to perhaps save themselves by diversifying?  It's a shame it didn't work out.  It seems like many people have some good childhood memories of Woolworths, and I like the fact that you remember the store having a good smell!

Thanks for your comment and thumbs up!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Wow, Moon Daisy, you've brought back such fine memories, especially now since it's the holiday shopping season.  I admit to being a Woolworths brat, having loved that store since I was a little girl.  

In the town where I grew up, Friday evening was the prime time for shopping downtown.  My mother and I would walk into town holding hands, do our Christmas shopping at Woolworths, have a hot dog at the lunch counter for dinner, and carry home our boxes and bags. 

As you've said, Woolworths had everything!  Including that fabulous old fashioned pressed glass butter dish Annemaeve mentioned above.  What Annemaeve didn't tell you was that it was a salesperson at ritzy Bloomingdale's who suggested she try Woolworths. 

I so miss that store!  Thanks so much for writing this lovely tribute.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the UK stores.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Yes, the giants are a bit threat! Recently a huge mall has opened in Shepherd's Bush in West London. It's the biggest one in Europe. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/u... . You're probably right about space being an issue, but I think these developers just bought up the site of the former White City Stadium. I like to shop occasionally, but it makes me nervous that they can just buy up sites like this and turn them into these monsters. None of these places are cheap at all, and it's bound to ruin lots of smaller shops for miles around it, and, ironically, it's also going to have a bad effect on the two major malls just outside of London, one of which was previously thought of as the "biggest mall in the area". I know I'm ranting here, but it's a scary thing; - are they just going to get bigger and bigger? Where will it end? Will we all end up just living inside a giant shopping mall, as all of our houses are knocked down to make room for them?!

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Gjcody, my previous comment was in reply to your last post. Sorry, I got a bit carried away there, and forgot to say that, lol! It won't let me edit it any more, and has also mashed all of my paragraphs together.. Well, thank you for your comment, and I will enjoy Woolworths for as long as it's still there!

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Aya, thanks for your comment. Yes, thankfully it's still around here for now. There are also apparently Retail Chains using the Woolworth's brandname still operating in Germany, Austria, Mexico and South Africa (according to Wikipedia!), although I don't know how similar they are to our version of Woolworth's.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

gwendymom, thanks for your comment. I hope I brought back some good memories. Yes, I hope that they make it. Ironically, they had a very successful day on Friday as they had a massive sale; reducing all their prices by 50%!

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Sally's Trove, thanks for your post, and I'm glad I brought back such good memories for you.  It sounds as if your Friday evenings were idyllic, and I love your description, made me feel as if I was there almost!

Yes, I liked Annemaeve's comment about the butter dish.  I'm sure that a Bloomingdale's salesperson probably would have recommended going to Woolworths; everyone knew what a great place it was for everything!

Thanks for your lovely comment, and for your wishes for Woolworths :)

profile image

Prosperity66 8 years ago

When I am in England, I always shop at Woolworths, I really like the atmosphere of these shops.

However, what I personally miss as a Belgian is the Marks And Spencer shops that we had here... and closed few years ago. Now have to cross the North Sea but have the pleasure to go to Woolworths, M & S as well as... Boots ;-)

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 8 years ago from London Author

Hi Properity66, thanks for your comment.  I agree, the atmosphere is really good in Woolworths.  It makes you want to stay in there for a long time!  Today when my daughter was at preschool I went to their 50% sale (which is apparently still continuing), and it was really great.  I ended up spending more money that I had intended to, and this is probably happening to everybody who's going in there - so not surprising that they've done so well over the last few days.  If only this would continue :)

It's a shame that you no longer have M&S in Belgium, I think that I visited one of their branches when I was last in Belgium (a good few years ago now).  I'm glad we still have that here, and Boots is also one of my favourite shops.  I hope you get to visit them again soon!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Interesting that Woolworth's started here in the US but has been gone from these shores for so very long. I was surprised to find them still operating in England. I wonder why they survived there but not here - there were so many of them - of course they soon had lots of competition.

Meanwhile is that Woolworth's in Stevanage? Or there abouts? A friend sent me a Brown Betty from Woolworth's. I think the quality of merchandise over there was always superior to what we found here.

Thanks for this bit of info!

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

Hi BkCreative, thanks a lot for your comment.  I think the main reason why Woolworths failed in the UK was because it gradually started to face competition in all of its sectors.  And, of course, the recession also played a part.  Like you say, it seems that in the US they faced lots of competition a lot earlier on.  I don't know why that was exactly.  Perhaps as it was an American store with American ideas other US companies could easily copy, but there was just nothing else like it in the UK so they held onto their markets, at least for a while?  (I'm speculating here, so might be wrong!)

The Woolworth's shop in the photo is apparently in Camberwell.  It's now a bit sad for me to look at photos like this, as all of its shops are now closed and boarded up (like so many other shops these days).

(Btw. I'm not sure what a Brown Betty is, I'll have to google it!)

Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

I love this! Such memories. You should add Nancy Griffiths video to this. "love at the 5 and dime" , one of my favorites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjQLGVQZI9I hope you don't mind the link in here. You'll see why when you view it. :)

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks Frieda, that's a lovely song which I've never heard before.

I will add it to my hub.  I'm glad that it brought back some memories, I trust they were happy ones.  :) 

Thanks for stopping by.

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Natalie Marie 7 years ago

I did not even know that Woolworths had existed in the UK! And I never have actually had the pleasure and privilege of stepping into one. My hometown, Greensboro, NC, had a Woolworths that was the site of historical sit-ins during the civil rights movement in America. It has been converted into a museum, however, and part of the counter and chairs that used to be there are now in the Smithsonian museum in DC. Thanks for sharing - I really wish I had had the opportunity to go into a Woolies.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks for your comment Natalie. Yes, I guess we were lucky to have it for so long! Before researching for this hub I hadn't even realised that there were no Woolworths shops left in America.

That's an interesting thing that your local Woolies had played such a part in the civil rights movement. It was obviously an important place :)

It's sad to see the old Woolworths shops in the high streets now, which are mostly just boarded up, and haven't yet been converted into anything else. There is an online version of the store (www.woolworths.co.uk) - which of course isn't the same, and I'm sure it's a million miles away from the memories of the old American stores - but at least a tiny bit of the legacy remains..

bearnmom profile image

bearnmom 7 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Woolworths has been gone from Downtown Pittsburgh for many many years. I remember as a child they sold the best pot pies at the lunch counter. Now that's going back a bit because Woolworths pulled out in the 1960s.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

It's a shame it disappeared from Pittsburgh such a long time ago. We were lucky to have had it for so long! I would've liked to see the American Woolworths stores, they sound like they were very quaint and interesting. The shops here didn't have lunch counters. But they seemed to sell everything else!

Thanks for your comment.

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

Memories of Woolworths here too. It was a favorite place for Mom to take us for a banana split. Great Hub.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

I'm glad I brought back some memories for you suziecat7. Hmm, and the banana split sounds lovely! Thanks for your comment.

Putz Ballard profile image

Putz Ballard 7 years ago

Precious memories of Woowrths, the dime store we called it. Shopped ther a lot before the advent of K-Mart, Walmart and Target. Thanks for the memories. Great hub.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks for your comment Putz and your kind words. Yes, those new stores just seem so soul-less don't they? Woolworths was also a big chain, but it had so much more character, especially I'm sure, in America in the 'old days'. I'm glad I brought back some memories!

jimmi 7 years ago

woolworths have been gone for almost 1 year and i miss there stores,in february a wellworths store opened and now alworths stores which seams to be the bigger chain as they have managed to open 5 stores in a month, where is the english herritage now?

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks for your comment jimmi. Wow, time flies! I'm still missing them.

I haven't seen any Wellworths or Alworths yet, but the names amuse me. I didn't realise that Alworths were opening so many branches, very enterprising of them.

Our local Woolworths turned into a Poundland, and to be fair it is a pretty good shop. But it doesn't have the same character as Woolies did. Yes, it was a big part of our heritage, and so sad that lots of our other chains have had to close as well.

Lizma 6 years ago

Reading your comments makes me realize that a shop can be here one moment and one day, suddenly, it's gone. We still have lots of Woolworths's in South Africa. They've even got a separate store for home and food which is a very popular place for me to visit! Just went into a new Woolworths food store at the Cape Town International Airport just this morning. And yes, we also LOVE Woolworths for all the variety they've got.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 6 years ago from London Author

Hi Lizma, you're lucky that you still have Woolworths in South Africa. You're right, we do take our shops for granted and don't think about the fact that they might not be there forever - especially the ones that are very well-established.

And a whole Woolworths store for food sounds very nice. Make the most of your Woolworths shops, enjoy!

Tina 6 years ago

When I was a child Wollworths would sell ice cream cones at the front counter and there was this flavor I always bought True Blue I have no clue what the flavor really was I just remember it was called true blue and the color was blue as well. The store was Woolco in new orleans Louisiana, hope someone can help me with the flavor

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 6 years ago from London Author

Thanks for your comment Tina. Ice cream cones from Woolworths sound good. I think our shops just sold the ice lollies (popsicles) or ice creams that were pre-packed.

I'm trying to think what flavour the True Blue ice cream might have been. I know here over the years I've had blue ice cream that was raspberry (or maybe meant to be blueberry) flavour, tutti fruiti, (which was like fruit cocktail), and a few times I had liquorice ice cream that was also blue. Liquorice ice cream was my favourite ice cream of all time! Maybe it was one of those?

Nora Sitruc 6 years ago

Wow! Woolworths! I have not heard that name in a very long time! It is so unfortunate that a lot of out smaller chain stores are being put out of business by places like wal mart.

On a second note though I think it has a lot to do with the mentality of Americans as well, we want everything faster and fresher and all in one place. So unfortunate.


Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 6 years ago from London Author

Yes, Walmart does seem to be king, and is edging out a lot of other chains. We also have it here, in the form of ASDA, so maybe it's gradually taking over the world..

Yes, that's happening here as well. The larger supermarkets are selling all the things that Woolworths used to sell, and in some cases just as cheaply. It is unfortunate. Thanks a lot for your comment Nora.

wytegarillaz profile image

wytegarillaz 6 years ago from Australia

Im going shopping in Woolworths in a couple of weeks, we do our food shopping there most the time when near one !

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 6 years ago from London Author

Ah, see sadly that's a different type of Woolworths! Enjoy your shop though. :)

madlene 5 years ago

i love Woolworth because it is very nice and fun thank you.

Wool worth's in Australia is the best in the world.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 5 years ago from London Author

Thanks madlene. Woolworths have all closed now in the UK. Very sad. (Although they are still online).

Woolworths in Australia is a completely different company, selling different things. I believe it's more of a supermarket. I've heard good things about that one too. :)

Tim 5 years ago

I live in the US and I remember going there after school with my mum and gran. We would go to the little lunch area to eat and then shop. My mum loved to look at crafts materials and fabrics, whilst my gran would pour over the sweets. My brother and I would be in the toy section looking for the latest toys. We bought many hamsters from their pet center. I was planning a trip to England partly to go visit a Woolworths again. My gran grew up during the Depression and always talked about the big Woolworths trip that her parents would do once a week!

Sad to see that they are really and truly gone. It was the best place to shop.

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